Ukraine's Yushchenko Hosts Leaders Of Three Other Ex-Soviet Republics For Regional Summit

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko on Tuesday meets with the leaders of three other ex-Soviet republics to discuss strengthening economic and security cooperation and promoting democracy in the region along Russia's border.

Presidents (L-R) Vladimir Voronin of Modova, Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine and Mikhail Saakashvili of Georgia attend a joint news conference at the GUAM summit in Kiev May 23, 2006

The summit brings together leaders of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Molodova. The four countries formed an alliance in 1997 that has increasingly been seen as an alternative to the Russian-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States.

Yushchenko has insisted that the goal is not to squeeze out Moscow's role in the region, but to foster cooperation on a smaller scale between these largely Western-leaning nations.

However, in recent weeks, both Georgia and Ukraine have complained about the ineffectiveness of the Commonwealth of Independent States, and Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili has raised the prospect of quitting that grouping of 12 ex-Soviet nations.

"If we can breath life into the old format, let's try," Saakashvili was quoted as saying by the Unian news agency. "I'd be only happy. But, unfortunately, the CIS is not at its best right now." He added that the free trade and free movement the Commonwealth of Independent States was set up to protect had floundered.

Saakashvili was speaking in the Ukrainian capital on Monday at a festival to promote Georgian wine, which has been barred from Russia in a trade dispute, the latest strain in relations between Tbilisi and Moscow.

The four leaders planned to use Tuesday's summit to transform the loose grouping, known by its acronym GUAM, into an international organization, whose headquarters will be in the Ukrainian capital. The organization will be renamed the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development.

The presidents were also expected to discuss energy cooperation and ways to diversify energy resources.

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus was also expected to participate in the talks as an observer. Yushchenko also invited senior officials from Bulgaria, Romania and Poland. The summit began Monday with an agreement to combine efforts to fight organized crime and weapons trafficking in the region.

Pro-Western presidents have come to power in Ukraine and Georgia since 2003, after their supporters poured into the streets to protest widespread allegations of election fraud. Moldova's leaders have also pulled away from Moscow's influence, and oil-rich Azerbaijan is being courted by both Russia and the West.

Source: AP